There are two things we can safely say about human
beings. The first is that we are social creatures. The second is that we are
highly resilient, able to withstand the most horrific of circumstances and
resume life once the trauma is over. These two basic human truths are intertwined
as portrayed in the story of the tap code. Bob Shumaker was a POW in Vietnam
and suffered a long captivity including three years of solitary confinement. He
attributes his survival to the use of a tap code that allowed him to
communicate with his fellow prisoners. This meager fellowship consisting only
of taps on a wall was sufficient to create the social holding that integral to
our well-being. When the Buddha gave his teachings he emphasized three things:
Buddha-Dharma-Sangha. Buddha refers to our ability to wake up and realize our
Buddhanature. Dharma can be translated as
natural law, or the Way, or as the teachings of the Buddha. We can think of dharma
as the straightforward, testable, and livable wisdom contained in the Four
Noble Truths. Sangha was the community
of like-minded practitioners practicing the dharma together. From the outset,
the Buddha created community, and the Sangha is one of the oldest continuous
living human institutions. Contemporary research confirms this inclination
towards community initiated by the Buddha 2500 years ago. Psychiatrist Dennis
Charnay who has studied the neurobiology of posttraumatic stress says, “The tap
code kept many of the POWs’ spirits up, even when they were in solitary
confinement. Everyone needs a tap code. Everybody needs people in their lives
to help them get through the tough times.” The tap code is a metaphor for the importance of social connection and, indeed, the social matrix that makes us who we are.
Has the Buddhist revolution begun? This Wall Street Journal headline, “U. S. Superrich Vow to Share Wealth” gives hope that perhaps the revolution has begun. Buddhism doesn’t have a patent on generosity and none of these philanthropists has cited Buddhist reasons for doing so, but doing so certainly embraces the virtue of dana (generosity). Nevertheless, these bodhisattvas are seeking to make a difference.
One strategy to enforce generosity is through taxation. According to Timothey Geitner this woudl be bad for the economy. For people to give voluntarily because it is the right thing to do rather than because they are mandated to do so seems to make more sense. It also gives these individuals the ability to direct where there funds go and whom they should benefit, rather than going into government coffers to pay for whatever the government deems appropriate (and that seems rather always and lately on defense spending.
Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle donated $46.9 million to his medical foundation, George Lucas, creator of Star Wars, donated $175 million to USC’s film school, Barron Hilton, son of hotelier Conrad Hilton, will donate $1.2 billion to the Conrad H. Hilton Foundation, Peter Peterson, co-founder of Blackstone Group, will donate $1 billion to the foundation bearing his name, and Patrick Soon-Shiong, CEO of Abraxes BioScience, donated $65 to Saint John’s Health Center Foundation. The effort towards such giving has been spearheaded by Warren Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates. They have convinced 38 other such mega-wealthy to do as they have pledged. The goal that Buffet is aiming for is setting an example for others, not through coercion but through admiration and inspiration.
Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg puts it this way, “Making a difference in people’s lives – and seeing it with your own eyes – is perhaps the most satisfying thing you’ll ever do. If you want to fully enjoy life – give. And if you want to do something for your children and show how much you love them, the single best thing – by far – is to support organizations that will create a better world for them and their children. Long term, they will benefit more from your philanthropy than from your will. I believe the philanthropic contributions I’m now making are as much gifts to my children as they are to the recipient organizations.”